Appeals court upholds Ohio ruling on early voting

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal appeals court panel Wednesday upheld an order from an Ohio judge that expands the swing state's voting schedule this fall and allows early ballots to be cast next week, although Secretary of State Jon Husted wasted little time in announcing he would appeal the decision.

Husted said he is compelled to seek a review by the full court because he says the ruling eliminates the ability of elected officials to make the rules and laws under which Ohioans live.

"That's wrong and I must appeal this case," Husted said in a statement.

In its ruling, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel concluded that none of the interests put forward by the state's attorneys sufficiently justified the burden found to be placed on certain voters by two election-related measures.

The 3-0 decision comes after a federal judge temporarily blocked an Ohio law trimming early voting and ordered the state's elections chief to set additional times that included evening hours. The ruling moved the start of early voting to Tuesday instead of Oct. 7.

U.S. District Judge Peter Economus also barred Husted from preventing local elections boards from adopting additional early voting hours beyond his order.

The state sought to have the decision reversed by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati, arguing in part that Ohio's early voting schedule exceeds most states and does not burden voters.

But the appeals panel found that Economus' temporary injunction "would not cause substantial harm to others and that the public interest weighs in its favor."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed the lawsuit on behalf of several black churches and the state's chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

ACLU of Ohio's legal director Freda Levenson said the ruling marks a victory for Ohioans who use early voting options to cast their ballot.

"Early voting works and this decision ensures that people's voices will be heard at the ballot box without obstacles," Levenson said in a statement.

The groups challenged two early voting measures.

One is a directive from Husted that established uniform early voting times and restricted weekend and evening hours. Another is a GOP-backed state law that eliminates so-called golden week, when people could both register to vote and cast ballots. Without those days, early voting would typically start 28 or 29 days before Election Day instead of the prior 35-day window.

Ohioans can vote absentee by mail or in person.

The plaintiffs claimed in their lawsuit that the new rules would make it difficult for residents to vote and disproportionately affect low-income and black voters, who, the groups say, are more likely to use the weekend and evening hours to vote early in elections. The black churches in the lawsuit say their parishioners have come to rely on rides they provide to the polls after Sunday services to vote early.

On Sept. 4, Economus sided with the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction and said the measures were unconstitutional and in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He characterized the measures' burden on voting as "significant although not severe."

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